is the act of creating a large flame
by spraying, with one's breath, a flammable liquid upon an open flame. The flame is usually held an arm's length away and the spray should be both powerful and misty. This art is said to have originated in India.
A favourite among audiences, fire breathing often features as a dramatic highlight in climactic performances. Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS is arguably the most famous human firebreather and regularly spouts fireballs and blood during KISS shows.
A number of legendary creatures are said to possess innate capabilities for fire breathing, most notably dragons.
While not a difficult skill to learn initially, it is the most dangerous of all the fire arts, and not just due to the obvious risk of serious burns. To increase safety, fire breathers must avoid highly explosive fuels such as alcohol
, spirit-based fuels, and most petrochemicals
, instead using safer combustibles with a high flash point
(>50 °C) and relatively low burn temperature. Due to its relatively safe (~90 °C) flash point, paraffin
or highly purified lamp oil, is the preferred fuel for fire breathing.
Wind direction is extremely important when fire breathing. To determine the wind direction artists usually watch the flame on their torch. If the torch's flame is not being blown in any specific direction then it is relatively safe to breathe. If a torch's flame is consistently blowing in a specific direction it is unsafe to breathe in that direction, or its opposite. Wind reversal can cause the flame to burn the breather.
Breathers create a fine mist by spitting with an aperture similar to that needed for playing a trumpet. The wider a breather's mouth is the larger the droplets will be and the less they will travel causing the fire to be that much closer to the breather's face.
Breathers will usually carry a cloth to wipe their mouth between breathes to remove the fuel from their skin. Breathers with facial hair must be especially careful that the fuel does not collect in the hair where it could catch fire and would burn for an extended period because hair acts like a wick.
Many breathers wear goggles to protect their vision in high wind, group breathing or downwards breathing scenarios.
Even done correctly fire breathing can have adverse results on the health and well being of the breather such as, but not limited to:
- Severe burns
- Dental Problems
- Stomach and tissue ulcers
- Fuel Poisoning
- Chemical Pneumonia or Acute Respiratory Distress
- Dry Cough
- Headache, dizziness, drunken ill feeling
- Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach ache
- Dry mouth/ Cotton Mouth
- Dry skin and topical heat burns
- - Pele, Fire Breathing Basics
can be absorbed into the blood stream without drinking it. Thus attempting fire breathing with ethanol can cause intoxication
Methanol (used with many colored flame recipes) has a variety of entry vectors and can cause blindness or neurological disorders.
Very low flash point fuels like naphtha, butane, and propane can create a condensed vapor build up in the oral cavity leading to internal combustion, damaging the mouth or lungs. Naphtha also is quite carcinogenic, and performance careers built on using it entail a high risk of mouth cancer.
Common fuels like gasoline and kerosene often contain carcinogenic additives or refining by-products, such as sulfurated compounds, or benzenes.
Ultra pure lamp oil mist inhalation can cause a headache, sinus infection, and chemical pneumonia. If a large enough amount is swallowed it can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, and vitamin deficiency.
Fire breathing stunts
These are arranged in alphabetical order. These acts should not be attempted without professional training.
use the vapors (as opposed to liquid fuel) collected in the mouth (usually during an extinguish, see: fire eating
) to light or keep a flame burning for what are usually smaller stunts. Vapor stunts include:
- Cigarette Light - light a cigarette with a slightly larger human candle
- Human Candle - slowly feed a candle sized flame with vapors you hold
- Vapor Transfer - ignite one torch with the vapor from another
- Volcano - shoot vapors straight up
- Dragon's Kiss - Partial extinguish of torch #1, then sharp exhale to light torch #2 with vapors, extinguishing torch #1
One person blasts
One Person Blasts
are basic or advanced techniques for a solo fire-breather. Some tricks are considerably more dangerous than others, and many advanced tricks require the skill of sustained blasts. One person blasts include:
- 45 Degree Fire Blast - 45 degree up angle, or the most basic fire blast
- Camp Fire - bounce the flame off the ground
- Hell Fire- the fireball is breathed straight down while crouched. The performer rises as the flames engulf him/her.
- Carousel - long horizontal blast while rotating through a full circle
- Corkscrew - nearly vertical duration blast with the breather spinning under it.
- Fart - bend over, stick head between legs, fire backwards.
- Forward Fire Blast - parallel to the ground
- Ground Lifter - 2 or more Repeating Blasts lit from one torch ignition
- Marlboro Man - light your blast off the Marlboro you shoot out with the blast
- One beat weave - figure 8 with vertical circles, alternating sides of the body.
- Repeating Blasts - 3 or more short blasts without refueling
- Serpent - up and down horizontal oscillation while walking
- Sustained Blast - Rather than a single pop, flame is maintained without source ignition for several seconds
- Sunrise - like torch to torch, but overhead in a semi-circular arch
- Sunset - downwards version of the sunrise
- The Big O - Sunrise and sunset combined into a large vertical circle
- Torch to Torch Light - light a torch held 3' from their ignition torch with a sustained blast
- Upward Fire Blast - shoot upwards
Group fire stunts
Group Fire Stunts
are fire breathing stunts that involve 2 or more people fire breathing together to create larger, usually more impressive stunts. Group fire stunts are usually highly choreographed, and can take years to master. Group stunts include:
- Biggest Blast Ever - 2 or more simultaneous blasts straight up
- Box - 8 (or more) people, combined skills allow passing l>r, r>l, front to volcano, volcano to front
- A Circus Tent - 4 or more blasts 45 degrees upwards, lighting off a high central point
- Crucifixion - Forward Fire blast done over the length of a second performer's body, while the second performer is lying on a table. This is typically done with the flame mere inches from the second performer's body
- Eight - also known as "double circles" is when you have one kneeling circle blowing a horizontal blast, and a second standing circle (directly behind the first circle) blowing a vertical circle simultaneously
- End to End/Rainbow - 2 simultaneous Fire Blasts, both lit off a high central point
- Grandfather/Elder - 3 off center, simultaneous campfire blasts. Creates a very tall fire vortex
- Group Carousel - Star Blast with group rotation
- Group Serpent - like the Straight Pass, but alternate breathers perform Sunrise and Sunsets.
- Machine - short blasts on the sides, long center blast, reconfigure, repeat
- Multi Blast Carousel - Group Carousel with many short blasts instead of one long one
- Star Blast - 4 or more full blasts, all breathers standing back to back and blowing out
- Straight Pass - 2 or more people passing flames, like the torch to torch solo act, without secondary torch ignitions after the first breather.
- The Most Dangerous Trick in the World - Fire blast lit from partner's volcano
- Wheel - 3 simultaneous blasts, center straight up, ends out to the sides and up 45 degrees
In Modern Culture
Black Metal Culture
The heavy metal subgenre
known as black metal
has been known to feature fire breathing among its imagery. While heavy metal has a history of including fearsome stunts and sideshow spectacles, the most likely originator of fire breathing in black metal culture was Quorthon
, frontman of the founding Swedish black metal band Bathory
. In a number of famous promotional photos, all dating from before 1988, Quorthon is seen spewing plumes of fire. According to bathory.se, the only official Bathory website, Quorthon ceased this spectacle due to overblown media attention to his image rather than music
As the Scandinavian black metal scene of the 1990s expanded, a number of the infamous Norwegian musicians began to produce similar promotional photos of fire breathing, most likely in emulation or tribute to the Bathory photos. An example of this can be seen at www.peterbeste.com featuring Frost of the bands Satyricon and 1349 performing the stunt in a cave in Nesodden, Norway. A number of black metal music videos have featured examples of fire breathing as well, including Immortal's "Call of the Wintermoon" and Satyricon's "Mother North". The former was an extremely amateur exercise which featured dubious skill at the art of fire breathing, while the more professional Satyricon video featured choreographed scenes of band members breathing fire onto inverted crosses.
On 14 March 2007, the Dutch student association TSV D'Artagnan
set the new world record simultaneous fire breathing. A total of 113 people breathed fire together.
In August 2007 the record for the biggest fire breathing pass was set at the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. A single breath was passed to 21 people before the flame went out.
Tim Black (Australia) of Androgen Fire Art (androgen.net.au) blew a flame to a height of 5.4m (17ft 8.5in) on the set of Guinness World Records at Seven Network Studios, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 19 June 2005. This record was later equalled by Tim Black on the set of CCTV GWR Special in Beijing, China in December 2006.
Update: The highest flame blown by a fire breather is 7.20m (23ft 7in) and was achieved by Tim Black (Australia) on the set of Zheng Da Zong Yi - Guinness World Records Special in Beijing, China, on 15 September 2007.
- Inkheart (Cornelia Funke) character Dustfinger, is a talented fire-eater and fire-breather. According to Resa everyone in his world knew his name, he is alternatively called the fire-dancer, because of his unparalleled talent. He also has a pet marten, for sympathy factor.
- David Almond's book The Fire Eaters is the story of a young boy living in Scotland who gets to know a local performing fire eater.